The late-night drink has a strong following: up to 15% of people use alcohol to seduce the sandman, large-scale surveys show. The sleep-inducing effects of alcohol occur partly because it’s a muscle relaxant (relaxed muscles help you fall asleep faster) and partly because it’s a psychological (or emotional) relaxant, says clinical psychologist Michael J. Breus, Ph. .D., author of Restful sleep: look younger, lose weight and feel good with better sleepthat helps you knock yourself out faster, especially if you’re feeling stressed.
Once your body begins to relax, it continues to relax as you fall asleep. But beware! This is when alcohol throws your body off its normal, healthy course, Breus says. The powerful and rapid effects of alcohol rob some of the other stages of sleep you need. It forces you to stay in the lighter stages of sleep and makes it difficult for you to enter both deep and REM sleep, important stages for waking up refreshed and ready to face the day. This happens later in the evening, when your body has metabolized most of the sugar in the alcohol. Your sleep becomes light and fragmented, and you are prone to waking up frequently (often to go to the bathroom).
You may also have problems with snoring, nightmares, insomnia, and night sweats. (Because alcohol is a diuretic, as it leaves your system, it can affect your body’s ability to maintain a normal temperature.) And if you suffer from obstructive sleep apnea, be very careful about mixing sleep with alcohol. As a muscle relaxant, it causes the muscles in the back of your throat to relax even more than normal, making sleep apnea symptoms worse. In fact, research from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI, shows that men, especially, have longer episodes of sleep-disordered breathing after drinking alcohol.
The next morning
Half of the hangover that hits you in the morning after a few extra glasses of wine is caused by lack of sleep and the other half by dehydration. Will a single glass of alcohol have a negative effect? No, Breus says. It’s when you get to two, three or four glasses that the problems start. And whether you drink wine, beer, or hard liquor (brandy, whiskey, etc.) doesn’t make a difference, it’s the ethanol content of the drink (a generic name for alcohol) that matters. Here’s how the drinks break down: a standard ethanol “drink” is equal to 10 ounces of regular beer (5% alcohol content); between 3 and 4 ounces of wine (12% alcohol content); or 1 ounce of hard liquor (40% alcohol content).
Also, if you’re a regular drinker, say a glass of wine with dinner every day, you’ll build up a tolerance to the effects of alcohol, which means you won’t be as sedated as if you were out drinking on a Friday and Saturday night. only. Basically, it’s better to drink a small amount of alcohol every day than to overdo it on the weekend. In a short time, you will become accustomed to its effects and you will be immersed in a restful sleep that will last all night.
5 smart sleep tips
If you drink, here’s how to make sure it doesn’t interfere with your sleep:
1) Finish drinking at least 3 hours before bed.
2) Don’t overdo your drinking stick with one or two drinks a day.
3) Try not to stay up too long after your usual bedtime; this only increases the sleep-depriving effects of alcohol.
4) Know exactly what a drink means: 1 beer = 1 glass of wine = 1 shot of hard liquor.
5) Follow Breus’ one-for-one rule: Drink a glass of water for every glass of alcohol. This will decrease your alcohol intake and help prevent dehydration. And drink a few extra glasses of water the next morning to help bring your fluid levels back to normal.